The Twitter's were rumbling, my friend. This past week I kept seeing mentions of a new place in town that was not on my radar: Compass Rose. I am normally pretty clued into the comings and goings, and knew it was planning to open in the coming months, but this quaint new restaurant arrived on the scene quietly on April 17th as it opened the doors for business. I really appreciate a place that doesn't need to make a ton of noise, but instead focuses on getting the key things right to ensure a smooth opening.
Located on T Street NW, just around the corner from Cafe Saint Ex is where the understated Compass Rose has settled. It's a small row house that is flanked with an outdoor sign marked with a compass. The restaurant describes itself as serving "international street food", which pays homage to the three years owners Rose Previte and her husband David Greene spent traveling the world. Chef John Paul Damato, previously of Jaleo, is running the kitchen, and the interior space of Compass Rose feels like a home-- very inviting and small, with a unique neighborhood vibe.
The menu offers small plates, each marked with the country that the dish originates from. I was blown away by the fried potatoes served in a cast iron pan with shaved Pecorino and salsa verde. I know you're thinking it's hard to mess up fried potatoes, but they were perfectly crispy and the flavor combinations were spot-on. The lamb kefta from Lebanon was another favorite. It was served with a small wheatberry salad and tasted great when dipped into the lemon tahini sauce. We also really enjoyed the mushroom pupusas from El Salvador, and the Georgian khachapuri was a standout. This cheese filled bread was delivered to the table, and the waiter then elegantly broke the organic egg which was sitting atop of the "pizza" to allow the runny goodness to settle across this satisfying and comforting dish. It is a must order.
The only miss throughout our global tasting experience was the bhel puri chaat from India. The dish was beautiful in presentation, but as I took my first bite (in lettuce wrap form), I found the flavors to be extremely bitter. I chose to focus on the other delightful dishes instead of pursuing this item further.
We enjoyed a nice glass of Pinot Grigio which was uniquely orange in color, and the menu touts an eclectic and interesting mix of wines and craft beers. During our meal, owner Rose came over to introduce herself, ask how the meal was, and check to ensure the temperature was comfortable. It was clear that she was concerned with the customer experience, and really wants this business to succeed.
There are three elements that make or break a restaurant: high quality food, a pleasant atmosphere, and efficient service. I would say Compass Rose is off to a great start on all three.